Energy on the islands

The paradigm shift

The transition to renewable energy systems is an important adaptation mechanism for small islands states because it substantially increases their ability to withstand energy price shocks and fuel supply disruptions. Recall that an important component of the vulnerability of the SIDS is due to their geographical isolation and their dependence on imported goods including oil and gas for the generation of electricity. Climate change will increase the risks and the costs associated with this isolation. Although hydrocarbon fuels for automobiles are going to be necessary for at least a couple of decades (it’s hard to see a widespread transition to electric vehicles in developing countries happening soon), the level of imported hydrocarbons can be substantially reduced if electrical power generation systems shift over to renewable energy. [1]

Renewable energy

Why is renewable energy important for adaptation as well as mitigation:

  • The source of energy is national, dependable, almost uninterruptible, and free;
  • Renewable energy reduces expensive fossil fuel imports, improves the balance of payments position, and frees up foreign exchange that can be used for other climate proofing action;
  • Electricity from renewable energy sources is substantially cheaper than power generated from imported petroleum fuels. If these savings are passed on to households, renewable energy can be an important factor in alleviating poverty;
  • Distributed sources of power generation are inherently more resilient to extreme weather;
  • Photovoltaic systems on well-built infrastructure such as hospitals and schools serve as community protection centers in times of extreme weather;
  • PV powered communication systems are better able to withstand storms and to continue to provide essential communication services;
  • Coastal installations for importing and stocking petroleum fuels for power generation are inherently vulnerable to coastal flooding and storm surge; with 100% renewable energy they are no longer required;
  • Rural electrification reduces poverty—an essential factor in building community resilience to climate change.

Renewable energy programs should also go hand in hand with energy efficiency programs.

Why? Because energy should not be wasted any more than water should be wasted. Investments to improve energy efficiency are also intelligent adaptation approaches because, once again, if you are a small island developing state it makes sense to be as self-reliant as possible. A 15% improvement in energy efficiency means the same service can be provided by a renewable energy system that is 15% smaller.

In fact, more than 15% smaller because of avoided transmission and distribution losses. And that translates into a substantial reduction in upfront capital and installation costs for the renewable energy system. Where conventional electrical power generating systems are still the norm, energy efficiency measures are very often the most cost-effective option: rather than ramping up power generation to respond to increasing demand, it is less expensive to invest in energy efficiency measures that actually reduce demand–thereby allowing the same generating capacity to service more customers or cover a wider area.

Depending on imports

The majority of the small island developing states are almost entirely dependent on imported petroleum products to generate electricity and to provide gasoline and diesel fuel for the transport sector. Only eight small island states possess petroleum resources that they are currently exploiting. Five are in the Caribbean: Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Cuba, Belize, and Suriname. The other three oil-producing SIDS are Bahrain, Timor-Leste, and Papua New Guinea. The level of oil production of Barbados and Belize is small: less than 2000 barrels a day (bbl/day). Oil production in the other countries in the group varies from 15 000 bbl/day in Suriname to 81 000 bbl/day in Trinidad. [2]

Most of these SIDS also produce natural gas—an efficient and relatively clean fuel for electrical power production.

For the 43 small island states without oil resources, the financial burden of importing substantial quantities of refined petroleum products is considerable. Only two countries: Fiji and Belize generate most of their power from renewable energy resources including hydropower. For 30 of the island states, their dependence on imported petroleum fuels for power generation is greater than 90%.

The table below lists the SIDS that depend almost entirely on imported petroleum fuels for electrical power generation. The data are from 2012 [3].

Dependency of the SIDS on imported petroleum fuels for electrical power generation

Only five SIDS have less than a 70% dependency on imported fossil fuels: Belize, Dominica, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Suriname. These five states have developed and installed significant levels of renewable energy power generation, as shown in the next table. [4]

Five SIDS that generate more than a third of electricity from renewable energy sources (percentages)

Access to electricity

Electricity is an essential form of energy for households and communities. Without electricity, opportunities for commerce and communication are difficult, and for many village families developing a small business is impossible. Regional economic development falters and stagnates.

Lighting a home with kerosene lamps is inadequate and a health risk for school children trying to study in the evening. Without electricity, rural families cannot communicate reliably with meteorological and disaster management agencies. They lack timely and accurate information about approaching storms and extreme weather. People cannot always charge their cellphones, and batteries for radios quickly go dead. Households without electricity are therefore especially vulnerable to rapidly evolving events such as violent storms, flooding, landslides and mudslides.

Adaptation to climate change aims to increase resilience and reduce vulnerability. Ensuring that at least nine out of ten households have access to electricity should be a priority for all the small island states.

The data below show the islands where less than 90% of households have access to electricity. [5]

No data are available for Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Cook Islands, Montserrat, and Nauru.

SIDS with less than 90% access to electricity (2012)


For more information check out the following:

[1]  See : THEnergy platform: renewable energy on islands, At:

[2] See the US Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook at

[3] World Factbook 2015

[4] World Factbook 2015

[5] See the World Bank database at :